Episode 24 – Favorite Fragrant Plants, Planning for Canning with The Canning Diva

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

O fragrance O fragrance! Wherefore art thou O fragrance? After talking the past few weeks about pollinators it made “scents” to talk about fragrance today. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” -Juliet

Fragrance is a hot button in gardening interest. A fragrance is defined as a combination of organic compounds that produces a distinct smell or odor such as fragrant essential oils derived from plants.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then odor is in the nose of the sniffer. Fragrance is debatable like the scent of Paperwhite Narcissus or Ornamental Pear (some people enjoy it and others think it smells like ammonia or moth balls or worse) Fragrance is complicated and variable like the taste of honey contingent on the flower the bee visited like dandelion, clover, red maple or goldenrod.

Improving floral scent is a goal of the horticulture industry, but it is also important to agriculture. Think of all the crops that depend on insect pollinators attracted by floral scents. We talked a couple weeks ago about honey bees and their ability to scent, they alone are responsible for pollinating as much as one third of U.S. crops.

Think about how fresh pine brings you back to a childhood Christmas memory or a visit to a bakery invokes a birthday past or a meal causes you to remember Mom’s home cooking or lilacs in May makes you think of a Mother’s Day years ago.

Fragrance, smell, aroma evokes autobiographical memories. And have no doubt fragrance is imprinted on your mind. Odor-cued memories trigger a much more emotional response as compared to those triggered by visual or verbal cues.

Some plants for the sake of fragrance:

Koreanspice viburnums, V. carlesii, like Spice Baby and Spice Girl
Heliotrope (Cherry Pie flower)
With master perfumers it is of course the Rose! (‘At Last’ has old fashioned fragrance)
Lilacs (Scentara)
Herbs in general like Basil
Vitex Chaste Tree
Clethra Summersweet
Buddleia Miss Molly

Our word of the day is Apricity: the warmth of the sun in winter.

Why: With today’s focus on fragrant plants, I thought it would be the ideal opportunity to feature our very first lilac! We have six different lilacs in the Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs line, and I’ve chosen Scentara Double Blue lilac as today’s plant on trial. All of our lilacs are fragrant, of course, but the Scentara series are some of the most powerfully scented of all the shrubs that we offer. Scentara Double Blue lilac is a Syringa × hyacinthiflora, which is known for being one of the most fragrant, and one of the most heat tolerant, of all lilacs.

Heat tolerant? You might be thinking, What’s that have to do with lilacs? Well, if you are a cold climate gardener, it may come as a surprise to you that lilacs don’t grow in hot climates. Like many fruit trees that we have discussed lately, lilacs actually require a period of exposure to cold temperatures in order to bloom the following spring, and most lilacs, especially the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, don’t experience enough chilling hours in warmer climates to grow well. Syringa × hyacinthiflora, also known as early lilac (though it isn’t necessarily especially early compared to common lilac), needs fewer chilling hours than just about any other type of lilac, so it can be grown in areas as warm as USDA zone 8. In terms of cold tolerance, it has that in spades – it’s hardy all the way down to USDA zone 2.

Like its name says, Scentara Double Blue lilac is characterized by very cool, very full, double blooms. They are much bluer than typical lilac flowers, though not quite as blue as a hydrangea. And its fragrance really must be experienced to be believed – its full of that classic lilac scent but somehow sweeter. This is a large shrub – 6-8’ tall and wide, so makes a good choice for a specimen or hedge. It’s also good as a cut flower so you can bring the scent of lilacs indoors.

Speaking of names, the scientific name of lilac, Syringa, has an interesting backstory. It derives from the Ancient Greek word syrinx, which is most commonly called today a Pan flute or Pan pipes. This is because lilac stems were traditionally used to make this instrument in ancient Greece. If you cut open a lilac stem, you’ll notice it has a thick, distinctive column of spongy pith in its center. When that is hollowed out of an intact stem, it makes a tube, and these were lashed together to make the instrument. If you are so inclined, you’ll find some niche websites detailing the process so you can make your own syrinx from your own Syringa!

Who: Scentara Double Blue lilac was developed right here in West Michigan at Spring Meadow Nursery, the company behind the creation and/or evaluation of every Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrub. There were several motives behind its development, not least of all is its low chilling requirement. Honestly, in the twelve years that I have worked here, if I had a dollar for every time a warm climate gardener wrote us asking if they could grow lilacs or why they couldn’t grow lilacs, I’d have enough to retire! Even though we cold climate gardeners may sit around and mope about all the amazing heat-loving stuff that we want to grow and can’t (citrus and avocados come to mind for me, personally), warm climate gardeners have similar zone-envy for lilacs and peonies. So our desire to offer a lilac that needed fewer chilling hours than what else is widely available was one reason behind developing Scentara Double Blue lilac.

The second one is early bloom. Our Bloomerang reblooming lilacs are great for extending the lilac season way beyond what’s typical, but they do bloom a bit later than lilacs, plus their fragrance isn’t the same. So Scentara Double Blue helps growers get fabulously blooming plants into garden centers when it matters most, and the fragrance alone will sell these plants.

How to grow: Lilacs are truly easy to grow, and if you don’t believe me, take a drive down an old country road somewhere in the Midwest when the lilacs bloom this spring. You’re bound to see an old abandoned farm with little more remaining than a collapsed chimney and a lilac or several. Lilacs were planted frequently on these farms and they are so easy to grow that they tend to persist for decades with no care at all. There are really just two keys to success with lilacs: full sun (6+ hrs/day) and well-drained soil. Wet soil is a certain death for lilacs, even soils that are only briefly wet or soggy can be detrimental. Lilac roots do not tolerate soggy conditions, so better to err on the side of too dry if anything.

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

Mandy asks if Rick will share the theory he mentioned last episode on why monstera leaves have holes in their leaves. 

Rick’s theory on those big holes that characterize monstera, also known as Swiss cheese plant, is that it’s pure benevolence: that these vining plants do it to allow and water to the plants that grow on the rainforest floor. Although this is a lovely thought, plants, of course, can’t decide to be benevolent. I looked for some information on the phenomenon, known as leaf fenestration, and pretty quickly came across this fascinating study, conducted in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica. It tested three theories behind leaf fenestration: increased water uptake, reduced wind damage, or deterring herbivores. And it found, unequivocally, that leaf fenestration increases water uptake in the plants that exhibit it. So perhaps Rick isn’t entirely off: funneling that water to the forest floor likely does boost the growth of those understory plants, which can then act as a kind of living mulch for the monstera, creating a winning situation all around. 

Dave asks, “Does the Gardening Simplified show make house calls?”

Sorry, we don’t – although it’s a lovely idea, that would leave Rick and I with little time for our other responsibilities! But, thanks to digital cameras, you can get the next best thing, which is writing to us with a photo or two of your issue, and we’ll get back to you.

Tom is wondering: Can the Perfecto Mundo Pink Carpet azalea take full sun in Texas, zone 8a? A YouTube show indicated that if it could take Florida sun then it can take your sun. We had this past year 45 days of 100 to 110 temps, which no, it’s not normal but it did occur this past year. What is your thinking?

The answer, of course, is it depends. It depends on whether you have irrigation, first, because regular watering is going to be crucial to their ability to live in full sun. If you don’t have an irrigation system, then full sun is definitely not an option. It also depends on your soil. If you have fairly rich and acidic soil, that will also make a difference, as will the presence of a good 2-3″ layer of organic (i.e., something that will decompose, not rock, rubber, etc.) mulch. While some shade during the hottest part of the day is usually a good idea in hot climates, with enough water and mulch to shield the delicate, shallow roots from heat and evaporation, 6 or so hours of sun each day should be fine in your climate. 

Branching News - Rick

On today’s episode, we interview Diane Devereaux, also known as the Canning Diva. We ask her for her advice on “planning for canning”: which crops you should grow, how much to plant, and which you can leave to the farmer’s market. You can watch the whole interview at the YouTube link below, or tune in on your favorite podcast platform. And speaking of podcast, the Diva has a podcast of her own! Click here to listen

Pink rose of Sharon flowers bloom on a plant with variegated foliage.

Episode 92 – Weeding by Example

Ah, weeds – maybe the #1 thing that discourages people from gardening. But weeds are interesting and become a lot easier to manage when you apply some basic IPM principles. Featured shrub: Sugar Tip rose of Sharon.

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